ACT Senator Zed Seselja has laughed off suggestions he could write off Canberra's social housing debt in his new role as assistant minister for finance, despite having the legislative power to do so.
Senator Katy Gallagher used Senate estimates on Tuesday to hit Senator Seselja up for a deal similar to the one struck by Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie in exchange for her help to pass the Coalition's tax cut package.
The state will have its $157 million housing debt to the Commonwealth wiped, so long as it spends all the money saved on public and affordable housing.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr last month wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to get the ACT's $115 million housing debt - which pre-dates self-government - written off, too.
"Do you support that waiver? As the local senator?" Senator Gallagher said.
"I think you're attempting to ask me my opinion as a senator for the ACT," Senator Seselja replied.
"As you would be aware senator, I'm not here in my capacity as senator for the ACT, I'm here as the assistant minister."
"You're in a position of influence now. You get to sign it off," Senator Gallagher countered.
"If only it were that simple," Senator Seselja laughed.
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While the assistant minister does have the power to sign off on waivers and act of grace payments under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act, such a decision would have to come from the prime minister or housing minister, Senator Seselja said.
Waivers larger than $500,000 also required an advisory committee to be set up, to investigate the proposal and provide a report to the relevant minister.
Senator Seselja said no request from the ACT government had come across his desk so far, nor had the Chief Minister written to him directly.
"Have you sought information about the request from the ACT government about the waiver of their debt? As the relevant minister?" Senator Gallagher pressed.
"Yeah but that's not how it works in terms of debt waivers. Debt waivers go through a proper process," Senator Seselja said.
"It's good the ACT community have you as their assistant minister on this one," Senator Gallagher said.
Senator Seselja said, "You're asking me to go into a space which I have no authority to go in, as I said in my role as senator for the ACT I make all sorts of representations on all sorts of issues but that's not the capacity I'm appearing today."
Senator Gallagher replied, "But you do have responsibility for waivers of debt, which is good. That's what I'm saying. Just keeping it local."
Treasury officials will likely field further questions about the housing debt waiver when estimates continues on Wednesday.